Hollinger denies 'Telegraph' is for sale

Conrad Black's group admits it is open to offers for some of its interests, but insists it intends to keep control of its British broadsheets
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The Independent Online

The parent company of the Telegraph newspaper group denied that the papers could be up for sale yesterday but said it would seek a merger or series of alliances that would enable it to take advantage of the internet revolution.

The comments follow news that Hollinger International, the Canadian company which owns the Telegraph, is putting most of its local newspapers in America up for sale.

As part of this process, the company admitted it was open for dialogue with other companies over other areas of its business and that these could include The Daily Telegraph.

However, Hollinger flatly denied that Britain's biggest selling daily broadsheet would be sold. "We intend to maintain control of the Telegraph and The Spectator magazine," said Dan Colson, the chief executive and deputy chairman of the Telegraph group.

Mr Colson admitted that a multi-media partner could acquire a minority stake in the Telegraph but said this would most likely be secured indirectly though a deal with Hollinger.

Hollinger is controlled by Conrad Black, the Canadian newspaper baron who bought into the Telegraph group in 1985. Its prize asset is The Daily Telegraph, which has daily sales of over a million.

But Hollinger, whose shares are traded in New York, has grown tired of being labelled as an "old economy" newspaper publisher despite its creation of its on-line newspaper, the Electronic Telegraph, and its Hollinger Digital division which has made 25 internet investments.

With the shares hitting a 52-week low last week, the company is now sending a signal to "new media" companies that it is ready to discuss a deal that could mirror the AOL/Time Warner link-up announced last year. "We are open to anything," Mr Colson said.

Analysts suggest the Telegraph could be worth around £600m-£700m, though the Telegraph says it would not entertain anything less than £1bn.

It has profits of £56m on revenues of £360m. But analysts say potential partners could be deterred by the paper's on-going price battle with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Times.

One UK media analyst said: "The trouble with the Telegraph is that it is not in a growing market. Where do you take it? It is already at the top of the cycle with a boom in recruitment and internet advertising and it is still under pressure from Murdoch. The question is not, why would Conrad Black sell it but why would he keep it?"